Public Papers

Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors


Thank you very much for that welcome. Mayor Whitmire, Secretary Skinner, Director Cochran, Mayor Isaac, Mayor Ray Flynn, and other distinguished mayors, and ladies and gentlemen, thanks for the reception and for the pleasure of being here. The mayors group is known as a pretty tough group. And maybe that's why in 10 years no President has been here. [Laughter] But all I ask is that the warmth be the same when I leave as when I arrived here. [Laughter]

Look, in particular, let me thank Kathy Whitmire -- reelected over and over again in our hometown -- thank her for that warm introduction. Kathy is my hometown mayor, and so I welcome the chance to ask her respectfully about one of the most pressing problems facing the city we love: room service in my hotel suite there in Houston -- [laughter] -- which is my legal residence, as you all know. Actually, in the South we do it differently: you don't run with a Republican or Democratic label. But I've suspected that possibly, even though we're in opposing political parties, Kathy and I have always gotten along. For instance, she's never held it against me that a member of my family owns the other baseball team in Texas. [Laughter] And for my part, I've tried to return her kindness. So, I picked up the phone when she called a couple weeks ago. She asked me to declare a disaster area, and I told her I did not think that the Houston Oilers were that bad. [Laughter]

But, Kathy, to you and all of your colleagues; your successor, Ray; others here; and all of you, it is an honor to address this 58th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, your winter meeting, and to talk to you about the ways that you and I, the White House and the mayors, can do a better job of building a better America.

Nineteen months ago, I sent you a letter expressing my thoughts on urban policy, and wrote, ``As we prepare to enter the 1990's, it is clear that America needs a new working relationship between the Federal Government and the cities.'' I meant it then and I mean it now. And we do need to forge a new relationship, a relationship -- a partnership -- which realizes that as mayors you are on the front line in the war against urban problems, a partnership which can achieve the promise of America.

That promise depends, first, on maintaining our economic resources, just as we have during the longest peacetime boom in American history. Next week I'll be doing what you've had to do: next week I'll release a budget for fiscal year 1991 that hopefully builds on this prosperity. Together we can create opportunity for all.

The promise of America also depends on safeguarding our natural resources, just as mayors are doing through programs like Chicago's ``Plastics on Parks'' or in Virginia Beach, generating electricity from that city's landfill -- you're doing your part, and we intend to do ours by strengthening the Clean Air Act, preserving our wetlands, improving America's parks, and others -- domestic and international initiatives. And Wednesday, I announced my support for the Glenn-Roth legislation to elevate the EPA to Cabinet status. Together, we must protect our environment for decades to come.

Then there are human resources. Today an estimated 15 million families are headed by working parents or single mothers. But when it comes to child care, Washington doesn't automatically know best. I am resisting mandated Federal programs. And so, I urge the Congress to pass my child-care legislation. Let's put the choice in the hands of the low-income parents.

Each of these initiatives will nurture the promise of America. Yet urban problems won't fade until we meet the challenges that I discussed in that letter in 1988, the challenges that you face every single day: drugs and crime, education, housing, and the plight of our homeless. Can we meet them? I believe that we can because I believe in America, nothing is impossible. Perhaps an ex-baseball player put it best. ``When I was a little boy,'' Craig Nettles said, ``I wanted to be a big-league player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I've accomplished both.'' [Laughter]

I do believe that as partners we, too, can accomplish what some might deem impossible. So, let us assault the drugs and crime that form the first of our challenges. Rescuing our kids from crack and cocaine will not be easy, but it can be done.

As proof, consider that in 1985, 23 million Americans used illegal drugs on a current basis -- at least once in 30 days. But last year that number fell by more than a third. That means almost 9 million fewer Americans are casual drug users. Good news. It's up to us to make it better.

And that's why yesterday I released the 1990 Drug Control National Strategy, Phase II of the Comprehensive Drug Policy that we unveiled last September. We're asking Congress to spend over .5 billion in fiscal '91 for education, treatment, interdiction, and enforcement. That is a 41-percent increase in outlays over the current year, and it means a 69-percent increase in drug-related spending overall since our administration took office.

I ask you to support our strategy to take back the streets from crime and drugs. We need -- we really do, I believe -- need mandatory time for firearms offenses -- no deals when criminals use a gun -- and, as Phase II proposes, an expansion of the death penalty for drug-related crimes. In that context, I ask you to urge your State legislatures to approve the same penalty for the killing of local law enforcement officers. Let's work together to stop the hooligans and the thugs.

Phase II aims to help the teenager tormented by crack or the pregnant mother whose drug use imperils her child. Yet drugs are not only a Federal problem. So, you, too, have responded. Macon, Georgia, started the ``Macon-Bibb war on drugs.'' In Houston, local officials and residents of an area in our city called Acres Homes Project have teamed to pursue ``drug-free tomorrows.'' I visited out there last month with Kathy, and the courage of that community is absolutely inspiring. Same inspiration from what's happening in downtown Kansas City and so many other cities all across this country.

And so, now let's join hands to inspire the millions of Americans who want to help America get clean and stay clean. According to the Gordon Black poll -- it was released just yesterday -- 10 percent of all families are already involved in volunteer antidrug programs. But what's really startling is that an unbelievable 60 percent of Americans would volunteer 5 hours each week to stop the sale and use of drugs. And the same percentage would donate from to 0 to their community to stem drug use. Now, why haven't they? Maybe it's my fault; maybe it's yours; maybe it's the private sectors. But they simply have not been asked.

One American who was asked and who got involved is a man that many of you know, his name is well-known: Jim Burke, former head of Johnson   Johnson. Let me tell you about him. Yes, he was the chief executive and the former chairman of Johnson   Johnson, but he decided on his own to do something about drug use. He decided to unsell drugs through the Media Partnership for a Drug-Free America. And his partnership already made dramatic strides, but it aims to raise million a day in advertising time and space every day for the next 3 years to discourage drug use. That is an amazing goal -- billion. But I am absolutely convinced he's going to make it. And it's a great example of what can be accomplished when an individual is asked to help.

So, get out your pocket calculators. The Gordon Black poll figures mean that Americans are willing to donate more than 500 million hours per week and billion, nationally. They want to serve, they want to give, but they have to be asked before they can do either. A promise: I will use the bully pulpit to ask them to do both, and I urge you to do the same thing. Together -- and that isn't just Federal Government spending and municipal spending. I am talking proudly of the Thousand Points of Light. We need to get more involved. Together let's defeat public enemy number one.

Ending the scourge of drugs will not only save lives. It will also help meet that second challenge that I talked about: the education of our kids. You know how central education is to urban America. Bright minds can find solutions to your Rubik's cube of problems. Remember, nothing is impossible. Yet look at today's box score of so-called higher learning: a dropout rate that is totally unacceptable, erratic standards, unsafe schools wracked by drug use and trafficking, kids ill-equipped to read or write. And so, let's be honest: Our educational system is not making the grade.

To go from fail to pass will require school boards, teachers, and parents to work together with all levels of government. So, I applaud the mayors who have started programs like Step Up in Kenner, Louisiana, providing learning incentives for students, or the program in Colorado Springs which helps dropouts and at-risk kids finish high school; mayors who head the more than 350 cities which enriched America on your National Education Day.

So far, so good -- and yet still so much to do. For while education is mostly a local and State responsibility, the Federal Government must help. That's why I call on the Congress to pass our Educational Excellence Act, legislation which seeks, first, to encourage excellence; second, to see that Federal dollars serve those most in need; and third, to demand educational accountability; and fourth, to support flexibility and choice.

For instance, we want to create a 0 million program, when fully funded, to reward schools that improve the most. Then there's our new Magnet Schools of Excellence program; our plan to reward schools which create a drug-free environment and reduce the dropout rate; and a National Science Scholars initiative in science, math, and engineering. And recently, I was very pleased to sign into law legislation to help urban schools hit hardest by drug use.

These initiatives can and will make America competitive in the international marketplace of ideas. But the promise of America also depends on meeting the third and fourth challenges that I mentioned earlier: making housing affordable and accessible, and providing help for the homeless.

Basic shelter -- affordable housing -- should be every American's reality, not merely a dream. So, 2 months ago, I announced an initiative to make the Federal Government a more effective urban partner. Its name: HOPE, Home Ownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere, a new comprehensive housing and urban development agenda. HOPE will help first-time homebuyers by allowing them to draw without penalty on IRA savings as a downpayment for that first home. It will also help tenants become homeowners, as public housing sites have done in St. Louis, Washington, east Los Angeles, and other places as well -- each with tenants in control. For other low-income families, we want housing vouchers that increase housing options. And toward that end, I have asked Secretary Kemp to convene a commission to identify barriers to affordable housing.

Yet for many, the problem of housing is availability, not just affordability, so we want Congress to renew the tax credit to aid the construction and rehabilitation of low-income housing. But we must also create incentives for growth in those areas of need, for growth means jobs, and jobs mean homes. So, we've urged Congress to help the dream along by passing our enterprise zone legislation, proposing at least 50 urban enterprise zones over the next 4 years to fuel the engine of job creation. There's more. We want to cut the capital gains tax for the Nation. And for enterprise zones, we've got to abolish the tax altogether to spur investment, jobs, and enterprise that can turn dark corners of despair into neighborhoods lit by opportunity and hope.

Finally, let us provide hope for those whose roof is the sky above, whose floor is the street below. We see them everywhere -- next door on 15th Street, in our suburbs, and in our small towns. I'm talking, of course, about the homeless.

The homeless need emergency shelter, food, and medical care. And to reduce homelessness, 2 months ago I signed a bill that increases funding under the McKinney Act -- Democrat, Republicans supporting it overwhelmingly in the Congress. And we want to find new ways to put part of our FHA foreclosures into the hands of nonprofit groups and to coordinate basic needs like shelter with other social services.

It won't be easy; we know that. But we also know the real answer to the homeless is shelter plus care. And we know that to help the homeless, like improving education or stopping drugs, will require a combined Federal, State, and local effort. Only then can we unleash the resources of the private and public sectors, showing, as a writer said, how ``America is a willingness of the heart.''

I believe there is a willingness of the heart in this room. I know there's a discussion, a lively discussion, over resources, over direct grants -- subjects that the mayors and the Governors and the Presidents in days gone by have fought about for a long, long time. But the main thing is there is this willingness of the heart among Democrats and Republicans, the White House and the mayors, a willingness to put aside partisan concerns. And so, I came over here today to say let us sit down together and do what needs to be done to achieve the promise of America and, thereby, make the impossible possible.

Thank you for this occasion. Thank you all very much, and God bless you. God bless your important work in the community. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner; Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; Mayor Robert Isaac of Colorado Springs, CO; and Mayor Raymond Flynn of Boston, MA.